Political struggles over pregnancy termination are longstanding in Europe and reveal a Europe of antagonisms in political, moral and religious questions. On the one hand, there is legal respect of fundamental human rights with regard to sexuality and reproduction and an increasing acceptance of corporeal and reproductive autonomy, promoted by ... (Show more)
Political struggles over pregnancy termination are longstanding in Europe and reveal a Europe of antagonisms in political, moral and religious questions. On the one hand, there is legal respect of fundamental human rights with regard to sexuality and reproduction and an increasing acceptance of corporeal and reproductive autonomy, promoted by a think tank of feminist NGOs and networks, liberal parties and a progressive European civil society. On the other hand, there are persistent Christian-conservative tendencies towards moralization controlled by an alliance of religious dignitaries, ultra-right-wing political parties, official government agencies and activists of fundamentalist “pro-life” organizations, whose “Anti-Abortion Crusades” in the media and “Demonstrations for Traditional Marriage and Family” as part of “Festivals for Life” are only the spearhead of a well-networked, Europe-wide “pro-life” and pro-family movement.
In the last decade, a dynamic erosion of long-held abortion rights can be observed especially in Poland and Croatia, two still overwhelmingly Catholic Eastern European countries. In Poland, after a long “war on abortion” that has polarized the country since the 1990s, the near-total abortion ban came into effect in early 2021. Since then, abortion is only permitted in situations of risk to the life or health of a pregnant woman, or if a pregnancy results from incest or rape. While terminating a pregnancy is legal in Croatia – according to the current law, which has been in force since 1978 allowing abortions on request up to 10 weeks after conception – access to abortion is becoming increasingly challenging. The Church, the ruling conservative HDZ and several ultra-conservative organisations such as Ordo Iuris, Vigilare and In the Name of the Family are leading the charge of the anti-abortion narration supporting social stigma of abortion, conscientious objection in the gynecological profession or prayer vigils in front of abortion hospitals to deter women.
In practice, in both countries it became increasingly difficult or almost impossible for those women eligible for a legal abortion to obtain one. Every year thousands of women leave Poland or Croatia to access abortion care in other European countries, while others import medical abortion pills. But the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions make travel for abortion and access to medication prohibitively difficult and costly. Furthermore, abortion advocacy groups in Poland face the additional challenge of delivering abortion access to pregnant Ukrainian refugees, also those raped by Russian soldiers since Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2022. Feminist initiatives such as Abortion Dream Team (Poland) and Brave Sisters (Croatia), oppose the bans and crisis situations by organizing pro-choice demonstrations, workshops on access to medical abortion or providing psychological and legal support to women who decide to terminate their pregnancies. Only over the last year, the rule-breaking Polish collective and founding member of the international initiative Abortion Without Borders, have helped 34.000 women from Poland to access safe abortion services.
Based on a methodological triangulation of discourse analysis, participant observations and qualitative interviews, and drawing on approaches to network theory, the politics of aesthetics, and protest mobilization, the presented paper investigates the logics, images and strategies of abortion access in Poland and Croatia by taking the nexus of politics, religion, gender and feminist activism into account. The ethnographic study considers some implications of the abortion debate for feminist activism and aims at a critical discussion of feminist solidarity and its political power(lessness) to create transformative social change in a time of socio-political crises, rising populism and anti-genderism in Europe. (Show less)